Forecaster Forum: Falmouth library struggles to serve its patrons

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This is an exciting time for the Falmouth Memorial Library and for the thousands of Falmouth residents who take advantage of what the library has to offer. For those who have not been to the library in awhile, or who could not attend the recent public meetings where the library’s needs and potential solutions were discussed, I would like to take this opportunity to fill you in on what is happening.

For the past 60 years, the library has fulfilled its mission to honor Falmouth’s veterans by offering books and other media; providing a public space for residents to gather; a place for civic groups to meet, and an opportunity for patrons to absorb cultural programs offered to all, from babies to retirees.

Unfortunately, in its current facility, the library will struggle to continue serving the community in those ways. The original portion of the building built in 1908 is showing its age. The basement is unusable due to standing water. The roof is no longer up to code and the insulation and windows are inadequate, resulting in inefficient heating in the winter and higher energy bills. The sprinkler system suffered several leaks last year, and likely needs to be replaced. Even if the library does not expand, significant expenditures will be necessary in the near term just to maintain the existing building. The problems with the library’s space are not new ones, but with each passing year, they become more urgent and expensive to repair.

The last expansion to the library occurred in 1995, nearly 20 years ago. The library accomplishes much with what it has. The library has the highest per capita usage of any library in our surrounding communities. Between 1995 and 2011, the library saw a 260 percent increase in circulation of materials, and our inter-library loans – the materials the Library obtains from other libraries to be loaned to our residents – have increased more than 2,000 percent, to more than 25,000 items per year.

But the library is about much more than books and statistics. The much-loved Russell Room is used regularly for a range of events. Children’s programs include baby sing-a-longs, reading sessions with therapy dogs, and video gaming for teens. Adults have the opportunity to listen to best-selling authors, meet for free with lawyers, participate in a book group, and even learn to play the ukulele. The library’s reference staff helps patrons prepare resumes, search for work on the Internet, and assists with providing tax forms and genealogical research.

With increasing use of all the wonderful programs and services, the library has run out of space. There often are waiting lines to use the public computers, and there is no room to install additional ones. The library lacks small meeting spaces that patrons need for study sessions or smaller community meetings. Without the basement, the library has virtually no storage, requiring materials to be stored in both staff and public spaces.

The library is a vital hub of our community, and can continue to offer all the services Falmouth residents have come to expect, and more, as long as we have an appropriate space to do so. The library, in partnership with the town, has worked to find a solution. There is now an option to acquire property adjacent to the library, which will provide the necessary space to grow, while remaining in its current location. The library, along with architects retained to develop preliminary conceptual renderings for an expansion on site, recently held a community workshop. A large and enthusiastic crowd offered many ideas that the design team is incorporating.

We will be holding their second community presentation at the library on Oct. 30 from 6-8 p.m. A revised design plan will be presented at that time, and the public will again have the opportunity to provide input and suggestions. We hope anyone who is interested in the library will attend. After all, this is your library, and we want to ensure that it reflects the entire community that we strive to serve.

Mark Porada is president of the Falmouth Memorial Library board of trustees.